Indie NZ bands struggling to get albums released on vinyl as major labels clog up pressing plants

Music lovers are buying more and more vinyl records every year, but it now means some musicians are being told to wait up to a year to get their records pressed.

It's all down to supply, demand, COVID... and Adele.

When Wellington band French for Rabbits started planning the release of their new album The Overflow in March, they were told to expect a queue for vinyl. 

"The amount of stuff that's been shipping means there's so much demand on all the shipping routes," the band's singer and songwriter Brooke Singer tells Newshub.

"It's just really hard to get things moved around, and then materials, so it's basically like this perfect storm of everything being extra complicated."

So much so, that even the November release date proved to be too optimistic: the vinyl didn't arrive in time.

"Things have been getting steadily longer. When you're thinking about releasing a record, you have to be thinking like over a year in advance now, which is pretty crazy," says Singer.

The Overflow's overseas production was moved to the Czech Republic as queues in the UK grew, while the records pressed in New Zealand were delayed due to Auckland's Covid lockdown.

"You have to make peace with these things, in this time. I'm pretty zen about it, I think they still look amazing and sound really good. I'm just excited to have it here," says Singer.

There are only a handful of record pressing plants around the world and everyone is competing to get theirs made.

Even Ed Sheeran had to fight forces outside his control - well, one in particular.

"Adele had basically booked out all the vinyl factories so we had to like get a slot and get our album in there," he told Australian radio station KIIS 1065 in October.

"It was me, Coldplay, Adele, Taylor [Swift], Abba, Elton [John], all of us trying to get our vinyl printed at the same time."

Adele's label Sony ordered half a million copies of her album 30 for its release. If someone like Ed Sheeran can't compete with that, well...

"For little artists like us, it makes it extra hard to even get in the queue to get vinyl printed," says Singer.

"If you're only doing a run of 300 records, it doesn't really compare to an order of a few thousand, so it's natural that a few people would fall down the queue a little further."

It's a blessing and a curse; another sign the once-dead medium is well and truly back.

In 2020, vinyl outsold CDs in the US for the first time since the 1980s.

"You think it's peaking and of course it doesn't, it just increases year by year," says Grant McAllum, new music buyer at Auckland record store Real Groovy.

Younger generations aren't necessarily inheriting their parents' collections anymore: they're starting from scratch, and spending big.

"They come in groups, they find a record, they hold it up and photograph it, all that kind of thing. A lot of it is trophy buying, you know, they've got it and let other people know they have it," says McAllum.

That's not a complaint: at Real Groovy, sales of pop music on vinyl in November 2021 were 30% more than November 2020.

"If you see it, buy it. Because it may be another six months before we're able to get it again, because it has to go back in the queue," McAllum says.

"It's a pretty good problem to have, that you can't get enough of what people want!"

Collectability has always been part of vinyl's appeal, but with buyers keen to snap up big releases, expensive reissues, and multiple colours, the major labels are jumping onboard like never before.

Factor in COVID delays and the pressing plants can't keep up.

"I've been involved in the music industry for more than twenty years and it's by far the most out of control at the moment," says Ben Howe, director and general manager of Kiwi record label Flying Nun.

While Flying Nun has been able to press vinyl for the domestic market at Holiday Records in Auckland, overseas it's now having to compete for space with labels that once wrote the format off.

"It's totally ironic that now vinyl is seen as the saviour of big companies and labels, where it was something they wanted to kill not that long ago," says Howe.

He says the world needs more pressing plants - otherwise the labels and artists who kept the format alive are the ones who will miss out.